Traveling, Part One
by John Malone
I went on my first long trip in the winter of 1937, when my mother took me, my older sister Emily and my Irish nanny, Miss McGinty to Florida and Beaufort, South Carolina, for the winter.
I was only eighteen months old at the time, so my memories of that trip are mere flickers and flashes — the hot sand under my feet, seeing a starfish on the beach, the sound and smell of the sea as the cool water rushed around my ankles and Mama splashed some of it over my shoulders and back, making me shiver. I held on tight, only able to grasp two of her fingers in my pudgy little fist.
A few years later, I was taken on my first airplane by my parents — a flight on an Eastern Airlines DC-3 from Pittsburgh’s old county airport to Philadelphia. We were on our way to Beach Haven, New Jersey to visit my Grandmother Malone who spent her summers on the putting green and at the card tables at the Baldwin Hotel. The only thing I remember about my first flight was being very airsick.
We visited the Steel Pier and the boardwalk in Atlantic City that summer. I vaguely remember seeing a baby contest, with mothers wearing hats, gloves and high-heeled shoes as they primped and prettied their little darlings underneath the board walk. Or maybe I just saw it in an old 1930’s movie.
When I was five, my mother took me to New York City twice, flying to LaGuardia for eye surgery with the famous surgeon, Dr. Dunnington. He was supposed to be able to correct all kinds of eye problems in small children. As a baby, a high fever was said to weaken the muscles in my right eye, causing the eye to turn inward. Dr. Dunnington tried twice to shorten the stretched muscles so that my eyes would be aligned properly, but he couldn’t get it exactly right. He made it turn outward instead of inward. My mother told me later that I almost died on the operating table. In spite of years of trying to correct it, I still have double vision and have to shut one eye in order to read.
With the outbreak of war in 1941, Papa stopped taking vacations for patriotic reasons, instead devoting his time to supporting the war effort by supplying the needs of the coal mines and steel mills in the Ohio River Valley as they earned their Army and Navy E awards. (The E awards were flags handed out by the Pentagon for excellence to companies that had exceeded production targets for military equipment and material.)
The rest of the family took regular summer vacations without him, traveling by train and lake steamer up to Ontario’s Muskoka Lakes or by car and ferry to the Lake Erie Islands, where Granddaddy Gardner owned half of Ballast Island, near Put-In-Bay, Ohio. It was there that I learned how to sail, row and handle power boats, taught by my favorite uncle, Clancy Horton, a naval architect from Massachusetts.
In August, 1945, we were driving up to Lake Erie from Pittsburgh when we heard on the car radio in our pre-war Chevy sedan the news about the first atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.
The following spring, when I was eleven, Papa drove me and Mama down to Mexico and back in a brand new post-war De Soto, visiting friends on his first vacation in six years. While we were there, I saw my first bull fight in Mexico City. I was horrified and fascinated. I read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also Rises and became an instant aficionado, collecting other books about bullfighting. I hung beautiful bullfight posters and photos on my bedroom walls showing famous toreros like the Mexican, Carlos Arruza, the great Juan Belmonte, El Cordobés , Luis Miguel Dominguín and the old timers like Manolete and Joselito.
I got a set of toy bullfighters, horses and bulls that I used to stage imaginary corridas on the floor in my bedroom. I even practiced passes with a cape, a muleta and a wooden sword, making my little sister Carolyn play the part of the bull.